Law 165 - Social Science and the Constitution
Richard H. Sander
M.A. Economics, Northwestern, 1985
J.D. Northwestern, 1988
Ph.D. Economics, Northwestern, 1990
Social science lurks in the background of many court decisions – especially in major cases involving broad social and regulatory questions – but doctrinal courses rarely have the leisure to delve into the making and interpretation of this research. In this class, we will focus on how social science research has, over the past century, helped to shape seven or eight major Supreme Court decisions in constitutional law, focusing on decisions that range from economic regulation to the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments. We will examine how social science figured in the litigation strategy of the parties, how it was weighed and interpreted by the Supreme Court, and how the conduct and assumptions of the research itself has evolved over the past several generations. One session will primarily focus on the Court’s jurisprudence on affirmative action and race-conscious remedies, and the use of social science in key cases. No special background in social science or statistics is expected or assumed; the material covered will in many ways complement coverage in the spring semester course in Constitutional Law. Readings will average 35 pages per week; in satisfying the course writing requirement, students will choose between (1) a 1300-word essay on the use of social science in a Supreme Court case not covered in class, or (2) submitting discussion questions before several of our sessions.
By the end of this course, students will:
1) Have a rich sense of ways that federal courts, and especially the Supreme Court, use and misuse social science data and research;
2) Understand the ways in which the Supreme Court has tried to discipline the use of science and social science, and the challenges reform faces;
3) Have a richer, more nuanced understanding of a dozen or so important Supreme Court cases involving constitutional doctrines.
4) Learn about the evolution of social science methods over the past century, and become better consumers of social science findings.